This Week’s Travel News

WHO Declares Zika Virus A Global Public Health Emergency

The World Health Organization on Monday declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus to be an international public health emergency as the disease linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil spreads rapidly. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told reporters an international coordinated response was needed, although restrictions on travel or trade were not necessary. The WHO said last week the Zika virus was “spreading explosively” and could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas. WHO’s International Health Regulations emergency committee brings together experts in epidemiology, public health and infectious diseases from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. Brazil has reported nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly, in which infants are born with smaller-than-usual brains. The health ministry has linked the condition to Zika, although the connection is not yet definitive. The Pan American Health Organization says that Zika has now spread in 24 nations and territories in the Americas.

WHO Warns Ziki Could Spread To Med

The World Health Organization has warned that the Zika virus could spread to Europe and the Med. Who officials say the risk of the virus spreading would increase in spring and summer as temperatures rise. Currently Zika, which has been declared an international health emergency, is only known to spread through the bites of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. But some experts believe it could potentially be carried by the tiger mosquito, which is rife in Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean. Italy and the south of France could also be affected. Britain’s National Health Service has now banned travelers who have been to Zika-hit countries from giving blood for 28 days after their return. After nine cases in Florida, State Governor Rick Scott has declared a health emergency in the four counties affected – Miami-Dade, Lee, Hillsborough, and Santa Rosa counties. All of the cases occurred in people who have travelled to Latin America and the Caribbean, where the virus has been spreading.

House Republicans Offer Bill To Privatize Air Traffic Control
Republican leaders of a US House of Representatives transportation panel introduced a measure on Wednesday that would privatize the national air traffic control system, placing it under a private nonprofit group run by a range of stakeholders, including airlines. The measure was in a bill to authorize Federal Aviation Administration funding for six years and is seen by Republicans as a way to bring greater efficiency to commercial aviation and free the system now overseen by the FAA. Republicans expect to send the bill to the floor next week, allowing for a full vote by the House.

Cathay-Pacific Group Rebrands Dragonair
Cathay Pacific’s wholly owned sister airline Dragonair is to be rebranded as Cathay Dragon. The two will remain as separate airlines, operating under their own licenses. By more closely aligning the two brands, officials say the rebranding will capitalize on Cathay Pacific’s international brand recognition and leverage on Cathay Dragon’s unique connectivity into Mainland China, one of the world’s fastest-growing business and leisure travel markets.

Virgin America Is Expanding Hawaii Service To LAX
Virgin America will expand its Hawaii service, launching a daily Los Angeles-Honolulu flight on May 5 and a daily Los Angeles-Maui flight on June 14. The airline entered the Hawaii market late last year, launching Honolulu and Maui service from San Francisco. Virgin America will use new Airbus A320 aircraft in a two-class configuration. The jet is equipped with “sharklet” wingtips, enabling the airline to burn less fuel.

Best Western Introduces Lifelong Points

Members of the Best Western Rewards North American programe can now enjoy lifelong points, after the company announced that it has removed the expiry date of points. According to the Best Western website: “Best Western Rewards points do not expire for members of the North American club, which includes members who reside in North, Central and South America, Asia and South Africa.” The change makes Best Western the first major hotel group to offer lifelong points. It also means that members can now build up their points, and use them anytime they want.

Boeing Completes Successful 737 MAX First Flight
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 took to the skies for the first time last Friday. The 737 MAX program achieved the milestone on schedule which begins a comprehensive flight-test program leading to certification and delivery. With the latest technology LEAP-1B engines from CFM International and Boeing-designed Advanced Technology winglets, the first member of the efficient 737 MAX family completed a two-hour, 47-minute flight, taking off from Renton Field in Renton, Wash., at 9:46 a.m. local time and landing at 12:33 p.m. at Seattle’s Boeing Field. During the flight the plane reached a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet and an airspeed about 288 miles per hour typical of a first flight sequence.

Swede Becomes First Person To Board A Plane With Just A Wave Of His Hand

Andreas Sjostrom boarded a flight from Stockholm to Paris in December without a boarding pass or even his phone. He had a microchip implanted in his hand with his frequent flyer identification number on it. As throngs of weary travellers streamed through one of Europe’s busiest travel hubs, the female security guard at Stockholm Arlanda Airport looked up at Andreas Sjostrom, confused. Somehow, without a boarding pass or even a smartphone, Sjostrom had managed to activate her scanner, and the system was telling her to let him in. He’s the first person in the world to get on a plane this way, sailing through security, then into the Scandinavian Airlines lounge and onto his flight to Paris in late December.

Southwest Pilots Picket Love Field
Southwest Airlines pilots claim they have been without an acceptable contract since 2012. After nearly four years in negotiations toward a new contract, SWAPA has decided to demonstrate their collective displeasure to management, the flying public, and Southwest shareholders. The pilots say four years, particularly during a time of record profits, is far too long for a company known for its “LUV” to not provide a worthy contract offer to its operational front line leaders, the pilots.

Uniworld Announces New Ship, Land Tour Partnership with Insight
Uniworld Boutique River Cruising and Insight Vacations have formed a partnership which combines land-based tours with river cruises. The 2016/17 Europe’s Finest program offers eight itineraries including a 17-night Portugal and the Douro and 22-night Eastern Europe and the Danube. Passengers will enjoy a fully-escorted land tour with expert guides offering local insights, followed by the cruise. Uniworld announced that it will be using a new river ship on the Mekong River in 2017. The 68-passenger, all-suite ship, Mekong Navigator, is owned by Haimark and will replace the line’s current vessel, River Orchid.

Uniworld Announces New Ship, Land Tour Partnership with Insight

Uniworld Boutique River Cruising and Insight Vacations have formed a partnership which combines land-based tours with river cruises. The 2016/17 Europe’s Finest program offers eight itineraries including a 17-night Portugal and the Douro and 22-night Eastern Europe and the Danube. Passengers will enjoy a fully-escorted land tour with expert guides offering local insights, followed by the cruise. Uniworld announced that it will be using a new river ship on the Mekong River in 2017. The 68-passenger, all-suite ship, Mekong Navigator, is owned by Haimark and will replace the line’s current vessel, River Orchid.

Cruise Lines Waive Cancellation Penalties As Zika Virus Spreads
Cruise lines have begun waiving cancellation penalties for some customers booked on voyages to the Caribbean and other regions affected by the Zika virus. Carnival Cruise Lines said it will allow pregnant women on sailings that include stops in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other destinations impacted by the virus to switch to an itinerary to an unaffected area. Alternately, passengers can postpone their trip or cancel outright and receive a future cruise credit.

JetBlue To Launch Flights Between Buffalo And Los Angeles
JetBlue has announced it is further expanding its presence between the Empire State and California by launching daily non-stop service between Buffalo Niagara International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. The new service begins Thursday, June 16, 2016 and will operate year-round. JetBlue’s announcement comes as the airline prepares to mark the 16th anniversary of its first flight which departed from Buffalo.

United Airlines To Launch San Francisco-Singapore Non-Stop Flight
United Airlines will start flying non-stop daily between San Francisco and Singapore this year in the longest direct service by a US carrier as falling fuel costs allow more airlines to offer longer flights. United will fly Boeing Co’s 787-9 aircraft for the route which starts June 1. The flight will take about 16 hours 20 minutes to Singapore, saving about four hours of travel time compared with the airline’s current services via Japan’s Narita airport.

American/United Bringing Back Free Snacks
American said it will bring back free snack service in economy on all domestic flights by April. The announcement comes on the same day that competitor United Airlines began its own free snack service on all flights within the U.S. and to Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America. On American, customers traveling on flights that depart prior to 9:45 a.m. will be served Biscoff cookies. Passengers on later flights will have a choice between pretzels and Biscoff cookies, with the offerings rotating on a seasonal basis. Though the resumption of free snack service is a couple months away for most domestic American flights, it will begin this month on transcontinental routes connecting Miami and Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, and New York and Los Angeles. The free snack service by United and American means that the four primary U.S. airlines now once again offer the service.

EasyJet To Test ‘World First’ Hybrid Plane
Reuters reports easyJet will trial a new fuel cell system on planes that could cut its fuel bill by up to $35 million a year, as part of its battle to keep fares low and compete against Ryanair. easyJet said that, if trials of an Airbus fitted with a hydrogen cell in its hold were successful, its planes would be able to taxi to runways without using its engines, saving an estimated $25 million-$35 million a year on fuel. Waste water that is produced from the hydrogen cells could be recycled to flush the toilets onboard. About 4% of the airline’s total annual fuel consumption is used in taxi-ing at airports. The new technology, which involves a fuel cell capturing energy from the aircraft’s brakes when it lands, would also help reduce the airline’s carbon dioxide emissions. easyJet said it will begin ground-based trials of the so-called hybrid plane later this year.

United Lets Families Board Early, Reversing Four-Year Policy

United Airlines Will allow families with young children to board early. The move, which takes effect Feb. 15., lets families with children age two and under get settled in their seats before the rush of other passengers clamoring for overhead bin space. United was the last holdout. It has forced families to board with everybody else since it revamped its boarding process in April 2012. Policies vary from airline to airline. Some let families skip in front of everybody while others let the first class and elite passengers onto the plane first, then give families a head start on the rest of the passengers. Sandra Pineau-Boddison, United’s senior vice president of customers, says the move comes as part of a larger effort by the Chicago-based airline to be more attentive to passengers’ needs. It helps the airline to get a plane out on time. Having all the strollers gate-checked at once frees baggage handlers who later have to deal with storing carry-on bags under the plane because there is no overhead bin space left.

RCL Says No Price Cuts Within 30 Days Of Sailing
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has expanded its pricing integrity policy to no new discounts within 30 days of sailing, chairman and ceo Richard Fain said Tuesday. The policy applies regardless of itinerary, and three- and four-day cruises are the only exception. He said “It’s important we have a clear policy everyone could understand and follow. That should make things clearer for the public but also the company’s yield management team. He cautioned in 2016 there will still be some residual impact related to empty cabins but said that’s expected to disappear by 2017.

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